Saturday, February 23, 2013

Guest Post: Federico the Flying Squirrel

I got so caught up in life last week that I never got to finish out with Thingummery's guest posting. Read her blog. Shop her Etsy shop. And imagine spreading your patagium and taking flight!!! Happy Saturday then!
Tony Palazzo ~ The Junior Literary Guild and the Viking Press, 1951

I’m going to make a sweeping statement without trying to confirm its accuracy: I don’t think there have been a lot of children’s books about flying squirrels. Okay, if there are other flying squirrel books out there, I can’t imagine they’re half as marvelous as this one, written and illustrated by Tony Palazzo in 1951. Palazzo appears to have been a pretty prolific illustrator in the ’40s and ’50s (Google around for copies of Susie the Cat, which looks awesome—I’m definitely going to be on the hunt for it for my two cat-fancying kids). I love the way he plays with type, making it zig-zag across the page like a scampering squirrel. And his two-color illustrations are singular and totally beguiling, to my eye, anyway.

And speaking of eyes: Consider the giant liquid ojos of the title squirrel—these are the saucer eyes of an anime character! It’s on account of Federico’s eyes, and his game smile, that this book has been in heavy rotation at my house for the past four or so years. The little dude is irresistible.

So we meet Federico, who is a very industrious, very confident flying squirrel. He shouts down a woodpecker squatter trying to move into his hole, feverishly collects nuts and still manages to find time to cavort with his flying squirrel posse:

Federico didn’t work all the time,
for he knew that all work and no play
makes a mighty dull day. As soon as
his chores were finished, he got up
a razzle-dazzle, try-and-catch-me game of flying tag with the neighborhood flying squirrels.

Federico clearly has a pretty perfect life, but he’s a teensy bit bored and always on the lookout for a new adventure, which he finally gets in the form of a neighbor boy named Billy.

Billy was holding some walnuts in his hand.
He was rattling them and calling to Federico
To come and get them!
Federico thought, “This is what I’ve been waiting for.”

Before you know it, Federico and Billy are BFFs, while “Billy’s Cat” and “Billy’s Cat’s Kitten” look on benignly, their hunting instincts apparently vanquished by Federico’s ridiculous cuteness. Everything is peachy till one morning when Federico is awakened by a clamor too early in the morning for his taste:

There was a commotion high up in the tree!
There was a commotion far down on the ground!
Federico’s eyes got wider and wider.
He was goggle-eyed at what he saw!

Which was Billy’s Cat’s Kitten stuck up in a tree, and too frightened to come down. As capable as any fireman, no-nonsense Federico is immediately on the case.  He leads the silly kitten down to safety, chattering instructions “in squirrel-chat the kitten could understand” and is proclaimed a hero by Billy.

“You should have a medal, like a brave soldier, Frederico,” said Billy.
“And from now on you shall have all the walnuts and peanuts you can store away in your nest up there!” Federico was very proud.

The only bummer about this book is that my edition—and I suspect a lot of vintage editions—is missing a page in the back that featured a flying squirrel pattern that you could cut out and assemble and then fly like a paper airplane. I didn't even know until I stumbled across an intact edition online. Dang! But then I can’t really begrudge the original owner his/her fun, can I?

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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Guest Post: Dean’s Gold Star Book of Cowboys

Thingummery is back again. Read her blog. Shop her Etsy shop. Yeehaw!

illustrated by Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone ~ Dean & Son, London, 1976

February is rodeo month here in San Antonio, so I’ll tip my ten-gallon hat to it by highlighting this gorgeous book celebrating cowpokes, little dogies, chuckwagons, stampedes, roundups and batwing chaps. 

I snapped this up at a library sale at our local Jewish Center several years ago, and I haven’t laid eyes on another copy since. It appears to be pretty rare, though maybe not so rare in the UK, where it was published. 

Whenever I think of Brits and cowboys, I think of some dear friends who hail from County Durham. Back in the ’70s, they ran a country-western bar in as bucolic and picture-perfect a Northern English village as you could possibly imagine—which always seemed a crazy combination: cowboys and English folk? But not really when you think about it, I guess—the appeal of the cowboy is universal. Cowboys (and cowgirls, of course) are one of the reasons I live in Texas! One of the reasons I named my daughter Dale! One of the reasons I’m looking forward to watching the XTreme Bulls finals from a suite at the Stock Show & Rodeo next week.

So this book reaffirmed my love for cowboys but more important introduced me to the Johnstones, twin sisters who became renowned children’s book illustrators, best known for illustrating Dodie Smith’s 101Dalmatians (scroll to the end of the post for a shot of my Book Club Edition published by Viking in 1957—the pink dust jacket alone is fabulous!). 

Courtesy of Wikipedia, here’s the nutshell biography: Born in 1928 to a mother who was a successful costume designer and portrait painter, the twins studied art at home and in school. Anne focused on period costumes; Janet on animals. They never married and lived with their mother all of their lives, collaborating on more than a hundred books, including some stunning classic fairy tale collections—and a Greek myth collection I will forever be pursuing—for the London publishing house Dean & Son. In 1979, just three years after this cowboy book was published by Dean, Janet died in a kitchen fire. Anne was devastated but managed to continue working, for the first time illustrating books on her own, until her own death in 1998.

What a legacy they've left us vintage children’s book lovers (seriously, if you’re not familiar with their work, Google around because it is so purdy). The text in Cowboys isn’t anything special; the publisher didn't even bother crediting it. This book is all about the art—even if you’re not a Western art buff, you've got to appreciate these illustrations. 


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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Guest Post: Guten Morgen

And while we're on Bruna. Thingummery had one more shorty she wanted to share...

Guten Morgen (Good Morning)
Dick Bruna ~ Ravensburger, 1983

A day in the life of a little European boy: Up bright and early in the morgen, doff those funny blue PJs, a vigorous shower with the loofah mitt, breakfast, fun with beautifully designed European toys, a game of football with your mates and don your wellies for a little kite flying.

Nice life, nice little board book, compliments of Mr. Bruna.

Also by:


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Guest Post: Snow-White and the Seven Dwarves

Thingummery is back today. Read her blog. Shop her Etsy shop. Give her the love, will ya? Yay Bruna!!!!!

Dick Bruna ~ Follett/Padideh, 1966

Ah, the things you find in your local Goodwill. Like this, for example—a Farsi (I only speak English and Latin so I can't be sure) translation of Dick Bruna’s Snow White, which was originally published in 1966 by Follet. This version was published by Tehran-based Padideh, I’m not sure when but if we were to judge a book by its (ragged) cover and condition, I’m guessing it’s from around the same time.

Anyway, when it comes to the oeuvre of the Man Behind Miffy, language is secondary—Bruna’s simple lines, pared-down shapes and primary colors communicate the story line quite nicely without it. 

That’s what I especially love about his Snow White—the bleak, slightly convoluted fairy tale is distilled to its essence: happy princess, frowny queen, the huntsman, sad princess, the dwarves’ cottage, the surprised dwarves, happy princess and happy dwarves, very frowny queen, the apple offered, the glass coffin, the prince, the end!

I’ve been reading up on the beatific Bruna, now in his 80s and apparently still leading an idyllic life of bicycles and cafes in Utrecht, and it seems he cites Matisse as his major artistic influence, which I kind of get, but you can be sure I’ll be thinking about it when I hit the Matisse exhibit (hopefully!) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art next month. 
Also by:


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Monday, February 11, 2013

Guest Post: The House that Jack Built/La Maison Que Jacques A Batie

My good buddy Thingummery is going to be taking over the blog this week, highlighting a few choice picks she had sitting around the house. She's awesome BTW, if you haven't figured that out already. Her blog is all about a life spent collecting and estate saling and thrifting, and her Etsy shop has all kinds of cool books for young and old like (young) The Adventures of K'ton Ton and (old) The Altogether in the Altogether Unbelievable Streaker's Handbook. So, welcome her....

Antonio Frasconi ~ Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1958

Everyone is familiar with the circular, repetitive nursery rhyme "The House that Jack Built," but perhaps not with this dual-language version illustrated by the woodcut artist Antonio Frasconi, who died last month at the age of 93. You can read all about his remarkable life in the New York Times obituary here. But to sum up quickly: Frasconi was born in Argentina to Italian parents in 1919, but he grew up in Uruguay, where he went into the printer’s trade at the age of 12 after dropping out of art school. Before long, he was creating political cartoons and making posters mocking Hitler and Franco.

Frasconi moved to the States in 1945 on a scholarship from the Art Students League, and had an exhibition up at the Brooklyn Museum within the year. He went on to illustrate more than a hundred books—including this one, which was shortlisted for the Caldecott in 1958—as well as album covers, greeting cards, etc.  

But his most celebrated work, which can be found in museums from the Met to the Smithsonian, was political. Subjects included the war in Vietnam, the shootings at Kent State. His best-known piece, The Disappeared, was ten years in the making—a series of wood-cut portraits of people who were tortured and killed under the dictatorship in Uruguay during the 1970s and ’80s.

The House that Jack Built doesn't tackle any of those weighty themes, but it’s as bright and graphic and wonderful an example of midcentury illustration and the painstaking art of the woodcut as one could hope to find. Believe me, I’m constantly on the lookout for more, but not very optimistic that I will be successful.

Google the Frasconi Kaleidoscope in Woodcuts, an exceedingly rare accordion book published in 1968. It is to die for, the vintage-kid-book score of a lifetime, for sure.

Also by:
Overhead the Sun


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Saturday, February 9, 2013


Handtalk: An ABC of Finger Spelling & Sign Language
Remy Charlip ~ Mary Beth Miller ~ George Ancona ~ Parents' Magazine Press, 1974

Remy Charlip, dancer/artist/children's book author, passed away last August, so I've slowly been sifting through our collection to get reacquainted with the titles of his we have on hand. I'd almost forgotten about this charming book of sign language. 

You don't have to use your voice to talk. You can talk with your eyes, your face, your hands, your body...This is the first book of its kind for young people on two ways that deaf people talk: FINGER SPELLING, forming words letter by letter with the fingers of one hand, and SIGNING, making a picture or sign with one or two hands for each word or idea.

It's a super cool book with fabulously-retro pictures or people and hands signing. The wonderful, crazy-faced woman above is Mary Beth Miller, an actress, writer, and teacher and an original member of the National Theatre of the Deaf. (I especially like the rad name-stitching on her overalls. Classically awesome.) 

Ms. Miller worked with Remy and George Ancona (the photographer on this and dozens of other kids' books) to pose for a good deal of the pictures and help choose the signs. Her sense of humor and cheerful spirit simply shine through the pictures. Such a cool collaboration and a clever mix of design meeting form meeting theater meeting function.

Remy often directed pieces for the National Theatre of the Deaf, and later designed another book of signs called Handtalk Birthday: A Number and Story Book in Sign Language from Four Winds Press in 1987. Mr. Ancona and Ms. Miller went on to make other books together in the series like Handtalk Zoo and Handtalk School.

On a side note, I was on Brian Selnick's site the other day and saw this amazing little memorial, where he writes about using Remy as a model for the Georges Méliès character in The Invention of Hugo Cabret and how he honored Remy when he Hugo received the Caldecott. Have a look if you are up for a good cry.

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